Thursday, October 25, 2007


A little light reading anyone?
By David Witte
The more I think about it, the more I realize, I am stuck—with nothing. I am standing in front of a 500-degree flattop grill thinking about how I got to this point. I am covered in grease, the kind that takes graffiti hoses to wash off. In front of me are fifteen orders for food we are making. My trainer is busy looking up a recipe for Chicken Alfredo in the McMini’s spec-book. He couldn’t be older than twenty-one. He looks like Marilyn Manson. I could probably make it—there are a few things I have learned—but I play dumb.
“I’ve never been a cook before”, I told the manager when he hired me. His name was Raf Moon. He told me that McMini’s stood on strong ecological principles, that they were deeply concerned with the environment and recycling. He had a ponytail. If you wanna be a manager in the McMini’s Kingdom, you have to grow a ponytail. I just wanted a job.
He told me that when the Earth quake hit Bangladesh, the McMini brothers had graciously donated the entire yearly employee party fund of $35,000 to the ravaged citizens.
“Oh, that’s cool,” I said. “Where’s Bangladesh?”
“I don’t know.”
“When’s the new party?”
“There is no new party.”
The truth is, I don’t want to cook. All I really want to do is start my life over. Start again from when I first learned to lose.

The theatrical plummet began when I was fifteen. This would be the first chink in the deflation of my ego that would send me spiraling into a lifetime of mistrustful relationships and unmotivated schemes. It was a wrestling match in California that would permanently defile my psyche.
I had only been on the team for a year, but I was a natural. A lifetime of being beaten by people that were bigger than me had left me with a precarious advantage over people that were in my same weight class. At 115 pounds, I was unstoppable, undefeated, and fearless. All day long I had been kicking ass and our team was on its way to the State Championship, which in a state the size of California was no small feat. All I had to do was win my last match and we would have enough people to qualify. I was confident.
My coach, like all wrestlers, was a 5’6” muscle with a flattop instead of a neck. He was telling me things like, “Stay strong! I know you’re tired. But this is it. One more match and were in. Be fierce!”
He even bent down and retied my wrestling shoes, a sign of respect that he only reserved for his best wrestlers.
The kid came out and I realized the reason he was in the finals; his arms were almost as big as my legs. There was no way this kid weighed 115 pounds. Somebody made a mistake; this kid’s gotta be 150! It didn’t bother me. Either way I was gonna slam his ass. I gave him an extra fierce scowl when he came out to shake my hand. He didn’t seem deterred by it. In fact, he seemed altogether calm. That was when he went back and took off his legs.
From the knees down, the kid had nothin’ but stumps. Christ! I looked over at my coach; he seemed oblivious to this new predicament. He just gave me a fierce game face and did a one-two air punch, like I shouldn’t let this kid’s handicap get in my way, like I should seriously just get down to the business of kicking this cripple’s ass.
That might have been the moment when I first knew that my life was about to spiral down. I had that feeling you get when you’re climbing a tall tree and suddenly you lose your grip, just for a second, just long enough to scare the shit out of yourself and all your thoughts go vertigo while you picture yourself in pieces on the ground.
He came at me like a hermit crab with biceps and took me down at the ankles. He pushed my face down into the filthy mat stained from the sweat of a thousand teenage limbs and ass cracks. I bucked up, trying to shake him, but it was like I had a giant lead shell on my back. It was suffocating. I reached back and grabbed a stump. Get him where it hurts, I was thinking. I felt gristle. It reminded me of when I was a kid and my mom blindfolded me and had me reach into the Halloween kettle. She told me I was grabbing intestines when really it was a pile of knotted chicken fat.
Knotted leg stump.
The kid was unmovable. The first period I spent entirely on my belly, expending all my energy trying not to get flipped like a turtle.
Gimpy, 4 points. Jackson, 0.
It took me until the third period to realize he didn’t have any feeling in his stumps. My coach was inches from my head, right outside the circle, pounding his agro-fist into the mat.
“Flip that bitch. Don’t you give up on me Jack!”
Somewhere inside me the Rocky theme song started to play. I pushed up like a beaten dog with crippy grappled to my back. I got my knees underneath me and stood up, feeling a rough spurt of adrenaline jerk through me and then I slammed him down on his head.
I remember the crowd letting out a collective “Uhhhhhhhhhh.” Suddenly, this kid was a cripple again. Then the boos came roaring in. My coach just shook his head, not in anger, but in disappointment. It was a gesture I would see over and over from many authority figures in my life. The ref immediately disqualified me. Gimpy just lay there stunned.
“You gave up, Jack. You lost your poise, your control.”
I remember looking up at the crowd and seeing this one woman with a hand held over her gaping mouth. The paramedics came out, strapped Gimpy in a neck brace, and then wheeled him out to the ambulance. I guess there was a chance that he might be paralyzed from the neck down. On my way out I gave the crowd a scowl, the kind I now reserve for people who order extra large cups of ranch for tiny side salads.
Some of us don’t grow up; we grow down.

“Can you flip those burgers?”
There are one-hundred mini burgers in front of me, about forty of them are well done, thirty or so badly need to be flipped, and the rest of them my trainer just tossed on the grill.
Everything is done in miniature scale here. Tiny two-ounce burgers for an overweight nation. The idea is to make you think you’re eating less when in reality you end up eating more. Most people order a six-pack of mini burgers so they end up eating three-fourths of a pound of beef. The salads and French fries are the same way. You can get a $1 sample plate up to an enormous family-sized platter; whatever it takes to keep everybody eating.
My trainer’s got dyed black Goth hair in a tight ponytail and hundreds of dollars’ worth of silver jammed into his face.
“Which burgers?”
He gives me a look like he’s about to start shaking his head. “You gotta pay attention. When they start to spread out like that, they’re ready to be flipped. Why don’t you just do the setups.”
I turn around and start pulling pieces of lettuce out of the make table. I am doing quality work. Each piece of lettuce I cut with a paring knife in a round circle so it perfectly fits the little bun. I select only choice Roma tomato slices. I arrange the pearl onion slices in concentric circles. I lay four pickle dots exactly in each corner of the bun.
He turns and looks at me. “It goes a lot faster if you do them all at once, instead of each bun individually. We gotta get this food out!” he says, getting frustrated. “And it’s three pickle dots, not four. If Mike McMini came in here and saw you doing that it would be an instant write up.”
“Oh.” I am thinking about something else.
I am thinking about those commercials from the late eighties, the anti-drug ones. You know, the one where the girl is high on drugs and about to dive into an empty swimming pool. Or the one where they show a guy running and a cop grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling him back, and then there’s that deep ominous voice that says, “Nobody ever said they wanted to be a junkie when they grew up.” And I think nobody ever said they wanted to be a fry cook either.
“You also gotta keep your eyes on the dish pit. As soon as you clear the board, you have to run over and start doing dishes.”
“Who’s the dishwasher?” I say.
He gives me another disappointment look and hands me the McMini’s spec book.
“Read this recipe off to me.”
“Chicken Alfredo mini,” I begin. “1/2 teaspoon of garlic …” I start making it up from there. I think empty swimming pools. I think this is how serial killers begin. I watch the sweat drip off this kid’s forehead onto his eyebrow rings, and then into the sauce.
“Throw down some onions for burger number thirty-six!”
I take a small handful and throw the rings on the flattop.
I reach down for the oil when he screams, “It’s one tablespoon of onions; you have to measure everything!”
I put the oil back and let them start to burn. His tongue is pierced with a ball the size of a marble. I feel bad for his teeth.
“Pull up those fries! You need to learn to crawl faster.”
I sing, “Obey your master.” You know, the Metallica song. I give him a gothic falsetto. “Master of Puppets is pulling the strings. Destroying your brain and killing your dreams!” He is not amused.
“For the next seven days it might be best if you thought of me as your master. You can be an individual later. Right now, you need to learn the McMini way. You need to learn that the most important part of this job is keeping labor costs down. Labor needs to stay at 12 percent!”
When he talks, the ten rings in his lower lip wiggle like a metal worm.
“Grab the spec book and make up a Family spinach salad. The measuring cup is your friend!”
How did I ever let it go this far? How did I ever get stuck like this?
I am like gum jammed under a desk, a bar stool, a toilet seat …
I should have been a shepherd, a philosopher, a monk...
I don’t tell him that ten years ago I would have dropped his bitch ass with my whisky fist. I don’t tell him that I live in a high rise of hundreds of shoe box studios that takes a month of pay checks to rent. I don’t tell him that yesterday I bought a loaf of bread from recycled cans I found in the basement of my apartment building.
It’s all about labor cost.
I don’t tell him that since I stopped getting laid, everyone around me is a sexual orchestra of squeaking springs through the cardboard-thin walls. I don’t tell him that when I was a teenager, my father told me that one day, without notice, I would suddenly be thirty. I look at the clock. I don’t tell him that in forty minutes I’ll be thirty-one.
Some of us don’t grow up; we grow down.
I follow the directions in the spec book precisely.
I create a masterpiece to dazzle the senses.
The 3_ cups of spinach I arrange so each leaf faces stem out.
The _ cup of mushrooms I arrange in a straight line across the mound of leaves.
The 2 tablespoons of bacon bits I carefully set on the center of each mushroom.
The _ cup of croutons I lay on the upper rim of the oval like clouds.
The _ cup of blue cheese crumbles I arrange into a circle amongst the green sea of spinach.
The moon is made of cheese.
It takes twelve minutes.
Around my artist colony Marilyn has put together fifteen plates of food.
“Christ, why don’t you just work the deep fryer.” Another discouraging look, and then the slow head shake. The fifteen hoops he has in each ear look like metal worms trying to work their way into his brain.
“Each order of fries has to be weighed. Two oz. for a mini, four oz. for a small, and 16 oz. for the family size,” he says, wondering if these will be the words that push me over the edge.
I don’t tell him I can take anything. I don’t tell him there is no edge anymore, just a long endless descent down.
I drop an order weighed out to the gram. I am thinking about Bank of America and how they charged me 35 bucks for a cup of coffee, because I overdrew my account by 4 cents. I am thinking about the 200 Bank of America deposit envelopes I have at home. Each one has a penny sealed inside.
Washing machine: spin.
Each one has my account number on it. It took me three hours. My tongue is still raw. Later, I am going to drop them in the night deposit box.
Clog them with your pennies.
It’s all about labor cost.
It’s just business, I’m sure they’ll understand.
The oil is black; it probably hasn’t been changed since the last trainee. The smoke stings my eyes. I think of Iraq. I think of democracy. I think of a whole nation of Iraqis sitting down to plates of Freedom Fries and Liberty Lager while outside their windows the bombs drop.
Freedom bombs.
Marilyn leaves the line to get more from the walk-in. I take some small orange stickers out of my pocket and start slapping them under the rims of a stack of plates. They say:
Got trichinosis?
Got salmonella?
Got mad cows?
Ever since Safeway sold me bad fish, I have been slapping these stickers on pork chops, young chickens, and slabs of beef.
Some of us don’t grow up; we grow down.
Clog them with your time.
The poor have nothing but time.
Kill them with your disparity.
Don’t feel bad.
Ask Dole how something is a 100 percent juice if the first ingredient is water? Ask Smuckers where the 100 percent natural high fructose corn syrup tree is? Ask Dannon yogurt why they use the husks of Bolivian beetles to get the color Strawberry? Ask and get no response.
Lately my stickers have read:
Try giardia! for bottled water.
Try diabetes! for Coca-Cola.
Try cardiac arrest! for cheese.
It’s just business. I’m sure they’ll understand.
Marilyn comes back in with a crate of mini-burger patties and sets them down on the floor. This place wasn’t designed to be a kitchen. It was supposed to be a small office or a studio. Nothing fits anywhere. It’s like cooking in my own kitchen. The people never stop eating.
“You have to keep your eyes on the dishes!”
I look at the ten orders that have flooded in since he left.
I should have been a fruit picker, a farmer, a wine-maker …
“Why don’t you take on the dish pit!”
I wonder how he picks his nose with three hoop-rings in each nostril. The French fries are burning. I start to power spray a baking sheet covered with chicken fat.
I am thinking about the High Voltage—Do Not Touch stickers I have been slapping on abandoned cars underneath the windshield wipers where the parking tickets go. To make it look realistic, you have to stick a few raw looking electrical wires out of the vent by the windshield so they can be clearly seen by the meter maid. I imagine they will eventually call in the bomb squad.
Grow down.
It’s all about labor cost.
This is how serial killers begin.
I start scrubbing a bacon-greased pan, knowing full well this will do nothing but spread the animal fat around. I am thinking about my father, and something he once said. “You can find some peace in being thirty if you have done some of the things you have set out to do.”
Nobody ever said they wanted to be a junkie.
Nobody ever said they wanted to be a fry cook.
I should have been a doctor, a professor, a writer …
It’s 11:50 p.m. The board is clear. The people are gone. Left behind are empty tubs of finger- licked ranch dressing containers. I know because I have to wash and recycle every single one. Everything here is washed and fed back into the machine. Bread bags, ties, plastic cups, every scrap of paper, bottle caps, used coffee filters, wax paper, can lids, cooking oil, vegetable stumps … I would like to recycle everyone. I would like to recycle myself. I imagine when a lifer employee dies here they just throw his used up husk into the pot for tomorrow’s soup.
The way the kitchen stinks is the same way my skin stinks. You would think they are recycling the food that people don’t eat. The smell I can never escape; the pheromone canceller. Who wants to crawl into the arms of a 145-pound French fry?
I am beyond caring. I just want to get the hell out of here. These people are the bottom feeders of the corporate ladder.
I’m thinking about printing UPC stickers off of pirate sites; the ones that you slap over the top of Wal-Mart iPods to reduce their price to $39.99. If you pay a kid eight bucks an hour, you think they give a shit what the scanner price says? I’ll tell you—they don’t.
Bag after bag.
Washing machine: rinse.
They’re thinking, one more paycheck, and I’ll have enough money to get my anus pierced with a silver ball bearing.
Marilyn and his pincushion face informs me, “It’s time to get the Led out.” He pulls off his work shirt, and underneath he has on a _-length skin tight Bob Seger tee, the kind that Carnies wear.
Running Against the Wind Tour: 1983.
“You like Bob Seger?” I ask.
“Hell no!”
These kids just won’t let the eighties die. They want to bring stumpy out of the closet, but they don’t want to touch the gristle.
What they can’t understand, they ridicule.
“It’s crunch time. We have to be out of here in forty minutes. We’re not allowed overtime, so whether we’re done or not, we’re punched out at 12:30. Labor cost needs—”
“Yeah, 12 percent. I know.”
“Tonight we also have to change the oil in the fryers, so we better get movin’!”
He’s got me scrubbing the giant grill with a steel brush, the one that makes hamburgers look flame-broiled. The handle isn’t long enough and little pieces of sizzling meat keep flying up and scorching my arms.
“These are the times I like to think about all the new toys I’m gonna buy!” he shouts behind a pillar of inserts with bacon dots inside them.
My McMinimum wage.
He goes on about some sort of piercing he is going to buy that penetrates the first layer of your brain so you are always high. I’m not listening.
I’m wondering if I have any checks in the mail.
Lately I have been going to Safeway and writing down the UPC symbols of different products.
I did it with olive oil, caviar, and jumbo jugs of cashews.
Anything over 15 bucks.
I called the 1-800 customer care number.
I told them I found rocks in the oil, condom wrappers in the caviar, and glass in the cashews.
I told them I broke my teeth, I’m worried about AIDS, and I cut my lips open.
I got the money back!
My money!
It’s only business; I’m sure they’ll understand.
I’m pouring vinegar on the flattop and scrubbing it with a pumice grill brick. The fumes feel toxic.
Marilyn says, “I wanna look at that grill and see my pretty face staring back at me!”
The scarification tattoo he has on his neck looks like gristle worms under his skin.
I can take anything.
I’ve learned to give in.
I start emptying the oil from the fryers into five-gallon buckets. Steaming black petrol pours out of the metal valves. Sweat pours down my un-pierced face.
“Cap it and set it next to the dumpster out back.”
We restock everything, take out the garbage, do all the dishes, and sweep and mop the floors. I feel beat up and broke down. I’m starving and I work in a restaurant.
Happy birthday.
The best way to prevent starvation is to only eat one big meal a day.
As I leave I hear Marilyn talking to a waitress about how he’s gonna go home and hang himself by his nipple rings to get back to his Indian roots. She seems fascinated by this. I don’t say goodbye.
I should have been a steamboat captain, a helicopter pilot, an astronaut …
It’s 12:46 a.m. The steam is rising off my sweat-soaked head. I live a couple of blocks away. The mist slides through the streets, unveiling bodies in slumber. Everywhere they are perched: in church archways and building doorways; in vans and on top of heat vents; on benches and between buildings—the real homeless. They are battened down tight for the night under wool and nylon blankets alike: the ones that have too much pride to beg or not enough sanity to realize the benefits.
When the fake homeless approach me for change, I tell them to sell their tattoos, their backpacks, their skateboards, their Doc Martens, their pit bulls …
I’m carrying two five-gallon buckets of used cooking oil down the street. A woman comes around the corner in a bundle of nice jacket and make-up. She looks hard at me, trying to decide whether or not I am a bum, and then hustles into a waiting BMW. Out of the wet fog comes a mangy dog. A terrier speckled black and white. He is all sniffs and rubs. Lonely and hungry like me. He licks my shoes and my pant legs. To a dog I must smell wonderful.
I am dog’s best friend.
He ain’t no puppy, but neither am I. He follows me down the street at an uncertain pace, looking back periodically, as if somewhere back there is home.
In the basement of my apartment building with Hungry beside me, I am mixing up the oil. It has to sit for a while, an hour maybe, before it will be usable.
I am digging around in the basement for cans. I get lucky. Somebody had a party while I was at work. I find a plastic bag with over 100 PBR cans inside. With Hungry in tow, I head down to Safeway. The store is closed, but the recycling center is always open.
It’s all about labor cost.
I hand the cans over to this kid in the window for weighing. He’s got a Black Sabbath tee shirt on and a chicken bone through his nose. He hands me back $7.25.
My McMinimum wage.
It’s almost beer time. Outside the Plaid Pantry, this fake homeless kid is pounding on his bongo trying to drum up enough change to get back to the suburbs.
He asks, “Got 25 cents?” and I give him a ranch-cup scowl. I leave Hungry outside. I imagine he’ll be gone when I get back.
Inside the Plaid, a free-for-all is going on. A kid with a dread-locked mullet is stuffing a burrito into his crotch. His friend in a wheelchair with Frankenstein bolts sticking out of his head is eating a sandwich as fast as he can. They don’t even care that I see. I look over at the cashier. She has dyed black hair in Aqua-netted liberty spikes, a set of metal teeth, and wine corks in her ears. She doesn’t care either.
McMinimum wage.
She has an empty swimming pool gaze as she slowly rings up the long line of piercings. With her next paycheck she’s gonna get her neck elongated with metal hoops like those tribes in Africa and Burma and Thailand.
I stuff a six-dollar TV dinner into my jacket. I grab a 69-cent can of Pabst and a three-dollar can of Alpo. I am thinking about where this store’s priorities lie.
Some of us don’t grow up; we grow down.
The best way to prevent starvation is to eat one big meal a day.
I get in line.
I am wondering whether or not I added enough Ethanol to the cooking oil, enough Potassium Hydroxide, enough Rapeseed oil …
This is how serial killers begin.
Washing machine: spin.
Later tonight, I am going up into the hills to fill Mercedes Benz tanks with bio-diesel. I already have the stickers printed out: As a courtesy to the human race, your diesel engine has been conveniently converted over to a more viable energy source.
While I wait in line, a denim punk stuffs a Kit-Kat in his back pocket. He has holes in the back of his jacket so you can see the long silver rods he has piercing his flesh. His wrists are decorated with iron shackles like an escaped convict or a runaway slave.
I remember my father said to me once, “You need to watch the way you act towards people, because you don’t want to turn around one day and find yourself standing alone.” I’m not standing alone. I’m standing in an army ant line on strike. I am forgotten. If you go 20’000 feet in the air and look down at me I am a lifeless dot.
Maybe I’m dead. This is my Hades; trying to cross the River Styx for dog food and a can of Pabst.
I should have been a gravedigger, a coroner, a mortician…
I want to tell the world that I reserve the right to refuse service to everyone.
I want to scream, “I’m not waiting around for this shit anymore!”
I want to pierce myself through the heart with a javelin so I can feel all the mysteries of the universe.
But the truth is some of us don’t grow up we grow down, with thick roots into the cold ground.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Into the Fire

Check out Deep Fry by David Witte, in the latest issue of SBUterrain. This story was so worth the beard shaving (and the wait)! You'll laugh and then when I tell you Deep Fry is based on real events, you will cry at the same time.
Full story coming soon...

Wardrobe and Makeup

Amazing how a change of clothes and a hair cut can change someone!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

There were plans

carefully drawn up by Amy, John's daughter.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

When the day came

John Witte took it like a man

In August of this year, SBUterrain, a literary magazine, published David's short story, "Into the Fire" in their 'Bads Jobs' issue.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

David made a bet with his dad,

a long time ago.

If David becomes a published author, his father, John Witte, will shave his beard.....a beard he has had since just after this senior portrait was taken.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007